Written By: Bill Syken
Angela Lansbury, who died on October 11, 2022 at age 96, charmed television audiences as the star of Murder She Wrote for twelve seasons, from 1984 to 1996.
But while Jessica Fletcher may have been her signature role, Lansbury had a long and accomplished career on the stage and screen. The first of her three Academy Award nominations came in 1945 for her supporting role in Gaslight, and the first of her six Tony Awards came in 1966 for perhaps the defining role of her stage career, in the show Mame.
Her star turn in Mame was also the occasion for one of Lansbury’s appearances in LIFE magazine. She was featured in a story in the July 21, 1967 issue on big stars in shows on lengthy runs, and LIFE photographer Mark Kauffman captured her limbering up before taking the stage. What stood out in that story is that while many of the other stars complained about the hardships of a long Broadway run, Lansbury expressed nothing but gratitude. Perhaps foreshadowing her 12 seasons on Murder, She Wrote, she sounded like she was happy to answer the call for as long as people wanted to see her. “When at last you’re there, as a star, with all these people loving you, let me tell you something—you don’t give it up in a hurry,” she said.
Lansbury was just breaking out as a film star on the occasion of a particularly glamorous LIFE shoot, when she posed for Walter Sanders on the set of the 1946 movie The Harvey Girls. In that musical, she co-starred with Judy Garland, playing a dance hall girl in the old West. The ornate costumes and stage sets resulted in images that are memorable and quite striking, especially to people who only know Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote.
Perhaps Lansbury’s most memorable LIFE image came as part of a picture series by Alfred Eisenstaedt on lunch in America. For that series he photographed a cross-section of Americans at their mid-day meal, ranging from construction workers to the Secretary of State. When Eisenstaedt shot Lansbury, ahe was in period costume for the filming of the movie The Court Jester, having a burger with co-star Basil Rathbone at the studio commissary. As with so many photos of Lansbury, what stands out are her expressive eyes, ones that held the gaze of American audiences for so many decades.